Classroom Management Tips for the Religious Classroom

Do you teach in a Sunday school, religious education, catechism class or religious formation environment? Could you use some help with classroom management to help keep your classroom positive and on task? Check out these tips for classroom management in a religious classroom. Specifically written for volunteers who are teaching the faith to our kids, but don't necessarily have the teaching background to give them strategies for dealing with behavior problems in their classroom.

This post has been on my heart for some time. As a trained teacher, it has been easy for me to step into teaching religious formation at our church. I have the background as a teacher and can easily make and adjust lesson plans, create hands-on activities and handle the classroom management piece. That is my strength, but I know my weakness is truly knowing and understanding the faith and there is always room to improve there. I know this isn't true for a lot of catechists who volunteer to teach the faith to our little ones. They have the knowledge to teach, but lack the formal teacher training to make them able to handle behavior situations that arise in their classrooms.
Do you teach in a Sunday school, religious education, catechism class or religious formation environment? Could you use some help with classroom management to help keep your classroom positive and on task? Check out these tips for classroom management in a religious classroom. Specifically written for volunteers who are teaching the faith to our kids, but don't necessarily have the teaching background to give them strategies for dealing with behavior problems in their classroom.

As I sat through my catechist certification classes, I marveled at the fact that there wasn't one classroom management class. I know some people taking these classes are Catholic school teachers who have teaching degrees, but I would guess that most of the volunteers who teach Sunday school, after school faith formation or religious education classes, do not have the degrees and therefore could benefit from some tips for effectively running their classrooms.

That is why I wanted to write some classroom management tips for the religious classroom. It is definitely a topic that could go on and on (and on) and become more than one blog post. I tried to keep it as narrow and concise as possible to give you some actionable tips to use when you are teaching in a non traditional classroom such as in a religious education class.


Setting Your Expectations


Set expectations in the beginning of the year. What do you expect from the students? Kindness? Respect for others? Raising their hands? Going to the bathroom before class begins? Let them know up front. This shouldn't be a surprise to them. How can they meet your expectations if they have no idea what they are?

Try not to use the prohibitive form such as "don't talk when someone else is talking" or "no chewing gum in class." Always try to phrase things in the positive of what you want them to do, such as"When a friend is talking, you are listening." Instead of no yelling, try, "Quiet voices when we are inside."

Along with expectations is setting up rules or guidelines for your classroom. This is always more beneficial when students help create these rules so they can take some ownership of the classroom. I like to compile a list of all of their rule suggestions (combined with my rules/expectations) and then try to combine them and narrow them down so you only have 3-5 rules. Any more than that and they won't remember them.
Do you teach in a Sunday school, religious education, catechism class or religious formation environment? Could you use some help with classroom management to help keep your classroom positive and on task? Check out these tips for classroom management in a religious classroom. Specifically written for volunteers who are teaching the faith to our kids, but don't necessarily have the teaching background to give them strategies for dealing with behavior problems in their classroom.

I like to use Be Safe, Be Kind and Be Your Best. I don't know that I've had a student suggest a rule yet that hasn't been able to fit into one of those categories.

Once you've established your rules, come up with a way to display them. It can be as simple as writing them on a piece of construction paper (especially if you are in someone else's room and you can't keep them displayed.) You can have the kids sign it showing they agree to the classroom expectations and then display it each week for class and review them during the first few classes. I usually use the posters from my Classroom Rules product to display on the whiteboard or easel because they are small and I can take them down and put them back up each week.
Do you teach in a Sunday school, religious education, catechism class or religious formation environment? Could you use some help with classroom management to help keep your classroom positive and on task? Check out these tips for classroom management in a religious classroom. Specifically written for volunteers who are teaching the faith to our kids, but don't necessarily have the teaching background to give them strategies for dealing with behavior problems in their classroom.

Consequences


Make sure you follow through on these rules. If someone isn't following the rules, make sure you take care of that situation so that all of the students know that you are consistent and expect the rules to be followed. This is when I always look for a natural consequence versus a punishment. A natural consequence is one that naturally happens because of the choice the child made. Yelling out for example could have a natural consequence of you don't call on them. A student is messing around and breaks their pencil so they can't get their work done. The natural consequence is they need to solve the problem and fix the pencil so they can get their work done in class or it becomes homework.

Something I used a lot was writing, not necessarily as a consequence, but as a way to reflect on their behavior. So maybe it was writing an apology note to someone they hurt, or maybe it was writing a note home to mom and dad explaining what happened in class and why they couldn't complete their work. Again, not meant as punishment (and definitely not something to do with the very young or students who struggle with writing), but more meant to reflect on their behavior and how they could change it in the future.

You want to make sure you are tying the consequence directly to the child's action when possible and handling the behavior with privacy for the child. That might mean pulling them to the side and talking to them, versus correcting their behavior and giving a consequence in front of the whole class.

Here is a suggestion of the order to handle a behavior problem but this can be changed depending on if it is a repeat offense and the severity of the situation.


  • 1st - Warning
  • 2nd - Consequence and/or removal from the situation (the situation, not the classroom)
  • 3rd -Write to reflect on behavior and how to change
  • 4th - Parent contact
  • 5th - Send student to DRE/principal to help 


On Task At All Times

Keep students on task to eliminate down time and ultimately behavior issues. If students are always working on something, there is less time for messing around and being off task.

Bell work

Have something for students to do as they walk in the door. Sometimes called bell work, this gives students a meaningful assignment to work on instead of just coming in and sitting and waiting for everyone else to get there.
Do you teach in a Sunday school, religious education, catechism class or religious formation environment? Could you use some help with classroom management to help keep your classroom positive and on task? Check out these tips for classroom management in a religious classroom. Specifically written for volunteers who are teaching the faith to our kids, but don't necessarily have the teaching background to give them strategies for dealing with behavior problems in their classroom.

I tend to change this up yearly. Some years we would give students a prompt and have them write a prayer when they first walked in. Some years we've had students work on making a flip book of the saints using my Catholic Saints Interactive Notebook. For the past few years, we've used my Catholic Saint Coloring Book. We focus on one saint during each class and when they come in, they get their supplies and start coloring. Once the majority of the class arrives, we read and learn more about the saint.

Some things to think about when designing bell work:

  1. Is it related to what we are learning that day?
  2. Does it bring them closer to Jesus?
  3. Is it something they can do independently and quietly?

Fast Finishers

Also, think about having extra activities, games, etc. that fast finishers can do so that they aren't disrupting others once they are done with the activity you've assigned. This can be things like reading a book about a saint, practicing prayers using puzzles, Mass item clip cards, color by Mass item coloring pages, etc. I've found this works the best when you set out a few options and students can choose an activity that interests them.
Do you teach in a Sunday school, religious education, catechism class or religious formation environment? Could you use some help with classroom management to help keep your classroom positive and on task? Check out these tips for classroom management in a religious classroom. Specifically written for volunteers who are teaching the faith to our kids, but don't necessarily have the teaching background to give them strategies for dealing with behavior problems in their classroom.

Even if you are walking in the hallway, give them a task to complete so they are focused and not talking or goofing around. I've done things like count how many pictures of Jesus you see in the hall, or try to pray the Hail Mary in your head before we get to the end of the hall.

Classroom Set up and Movement

Another way to help with behavior issues is to think about the set up in your classroom and how you will use your space. Now unfortunately, many religious education teachers have to teach in shared spaces, so they don't have complete control over moving classroom furniture. Still think of how you can use the space you do have to help promote movement.

Many of your students have been sitting in school all day, and they might be tired and hungry. You need to make sure they aren't just sitting at a desk or a table for the whole hour and a half or so that you have them. Throughout your time together have them move around the classroom for different activities.

For example:

  • have students come in and work on a task independently at their seats
  • once the whole class arrives walk over and gather around the prayer table
  • meet on the carpet to read from the Bible or the lesson/chapter of the day
  • head back to their seats to work on the activity
  • go for a walk to the church or chapel to pray, etc. 


Movement will help them to stay focused and adjusting the seating options will give them some flexibility to work in a spot that is best for them. To this point, I had one student in particular last year that was talking, being disruptive and trying to get attention from the other students. We were in a small classroom and had 3 small square tables to sit at which meant one table had 5 kids. It was too many kids in a tight space.

We tried out the option of flexible seating and removed the tables. Students spread out and worked on the floor on clipboards or could sit in one of the chairs spread around the room. There was a lot less disruptive behavior because that student was no longer sitting in a tight space with other students and didn't have anyone super close by to disrupt and entertain.

Also, think about your movement as a teacher. You do not want to be stuck in one spot in the front of the classroom lecturing to students. As you are talking and as students are working, move around the room. If you notice an off task behavior, go stand near that child. Often that's all it takes for that behavior to stop - you in close proximity to that student.

Be Positive, Look for the Positive


Start looking for positive behavior especially in those students who are the most disruptive. Compliment, acknowledge, and share any little positive that you notice. Often when you "call out" a student for positive behavior, the others quickly try to mimic the behavior in the hopes that you will notice them too. Something as simple as, "I like the way John raised his hand when he had something to say, thanks John."
Do you teach in a Sunday school, religious education, catechism class or religious formation environment? Could you use some help with classroom management to help keep your classroom positive and on task? Check out these tips for classroom management in a religious classroom. Specifically written for volunteers who are teaching the faith to our kids, but don't necessarily have the teaching background to give them strategies for dealing with behavior problems in their classroom.

Acknowledging the positive is one of the reason that I like reward tags (sometimes called brag tags.) Not only do I give them out to students as rewards for learning new prayers, completing lessons, or learning about a new saint, but I also use them to recognize and reward positive behaviors that I see.

They can earn rewards for helping a friend, helping to clean the classroom, being a good listener, having an awesome answer, having good behavior when we are in church, showing kindness, etc. Handing them an actual tag that they can wear on their reward tag necklace calls out the specific positive behavior that you noticed and allows them to refer back to it and share it with their parents. So it wasn't just I was good today, but specifically I helped a friend today.

You can read more about my switch from using a treasure box to using reward tags here.

When addressing a student behavior problem, you want to remain as positive as possible. It is hard because you are frustrated and exhausted possibly, but the student needs to know that it is a safe environment and you are trying to help them make better choices so they can learn and come to know Jesus better. Make sure to talk to the child privately instead of correcting their behavior or voicing your concern in front of everyone. That will just cause embarrassment for the student.
Do you teach in a Sunday school, religious education, catechism class or religious formation environment? Could you use some help with classroom management to help keep your classroom positive and on task? Check out these tips for classroom management in a religious classroom. Specifically written for volunteers who are teaching the faith to our kids, but don't necessarily have the teaching background to give them strategies for dealing with behavior problems in their classroom.
Courtesy of Deposit Photos

This is just a small sampling of techniques that will help you manage your classroom in a religious or after school type program, Sunday school classroom or catechism class. If you try these out, let me know how they work for you. If you need other classroom management tips or some of these ideas explained in more detail, let me know that too!

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